CLEVELAND (WJW) — After clinching their division title on Sunday afternoon, the Cleveland Guardians headed home to continue their short-lived celebrations before shifting their focus to playoffs.
A sturdy pair goggles were mandatory attire Sunday in Cleveland’s clubhouse, where impromptu showers of Champagne and beer broke out inside a thick haze of cigar smoke after baseball’s youngest team finished an unexpected run to the top of the AL Central.
Rookie Steven Kwan hit a grand slam and drove in a season-high five runs as the Guardians clinched a division championship no one thought possible six months ago with a 10-4 win over the Texas Rangers.
When catcher Luke Maile squeezed Josh Smith’s foul pop for the final out, the Guardians began celebrating a title that actually became official 15 minutes earlier following second-place Chicago’s loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Tied for first on Sept. 4, the Guardians have won seven straight and ripped off 18 wins in 21 games to open a 10-game lead and run away with the division.
This is Cleveland’s 11th Central title since the division’s inception in 1994 and its fourth in 10 years under manager Terry Francona, who battled health problems the past two seasons but has enjoyed this ride with a team that may have surprised early on but is now being viewed as a legitimate World Series threat.
“For what our guys did, and when you’re doing it with people that you absolutely care about and love and respect, it means a lot,” Francona said before his statement was interrupted by a bone-chilling dousing.
The Guardians have defied the odds from the start and became the first team to win a division with at least 16 rookies making their major league debuts.
The season began with low expectations everywhere but inside Cleveland’s clubhouse. Maybe is was naivete, but the Guardians believed they could be special and that’s exactly what’s happened.
After dropping Indians as their nickname following the 2021 season, a move that rankled a sizable portion of Cleveland’s fan base, the Guardians did little to upgrade their roster in free agency as the front office decided 2022 would be devoted to seeing what it had.
As it turned out, Cleveland’s kids were more than all right.
Looking ahead to the start of the MLB post season, the Guards could possibly host Seattle the first week of October.
The Guardians’ opponent and the other matchups will likely change by the day until the season ends on Oct. 5. One thing that will not change is their spot as the #3 seed and playing home games in the first round, John Sabol says.
The team store opened at 10 a.m. Monday with gear for sale.
Wild Card and Division Series tickets go on sale Thursday; 10 a.m. for cleguardians.com email subscribers and 2 p.m. to the general public.
For the most updated information on the MLB playoff picture, click here.